Inspiration / Lifestyle & Opinion

Andrew Jefford: Champagne, Oysters and a Worrying Environmental Trend

Contents

Andrew Jefford Andrew Jefford

Not snowy white, it's true – but Christmas here is often bitingly cold. It was around New Year during our first Languedoc winter that the garden thermometer plunged to -11°C. You can smell the wood fires as you cycle around the village through the ebbing year's grey gloom.

Christmas in the Languedoc can be bitterly cold

Family life exerts its gravitational pull most strongly at Christmas, so those without a ready apparatus of cousins, grandchildren, uncles and step-sisters are obliged to improvise. We have friends from Martinique who become our Christmas family: Jean-Michel, Jacqui and the twins, Brice and Fabio – the same age as our eldest son, and indulgent friends to our younger son, too. Christmas Eve means a long and chaotic dinner together of fishy extravagance. The boat gets pushed out as far as it will go (we had turbot with Meursault one year) but my favourite course is always the first: oysters.

These are a Christmas ritual in France: as oyster farmers deplete their 'parks', the wooden boxes of a double dozen, decoratively draped with a little seaweed, stack up in the supermarket aisles. Hospital urgence doctors, meanwhile, ready themselves for an assortment of digital injuries inflicted by stubby knives, ragged calcium carbonate and the tense adductor muscles of bivalves clinging to life. Jean-Michel and I are not beyond risk. Neither of us is a practiced écailler (yes, the French have a name for professional oyster-shuckers and seafood dressers). The brine and shell fragments, mingled with the sodden tea-towels we use to grasp the recalcitrant creatures, make a mess of gritty white mud on the table top.

There's annual disagreement about the juices: Jean-Michel pours away, preferring the bared flesh in tender isolation, whereas I struggle to keep each mollusc brimful of its delicious demi-brine: a marine liqueur seemingly distilled from umami, wrack and wind. We also disagree, mildly enough, about origin: Jean-Michel is an Atlanticist, convinced of the superiority of Belons and Fines de Claires. I have a soft spot for the smaller, less voluptuous Bouzigues oysters from the Bassin de Thau nearby. Argument is joined each year, each year inconclusively. In warmer months, I'd always pick Picpoul de Pinet as a wine partner – a salt-lemon wine which grows, as if by symbiosis, on the Thau foreshore. Jean-Michel and Jacqui prefer the classic cut of Chablis in winter. Of late, though, the start to the meal has been fired with a magnum of Bollinger: my payment for judging an annual wine-list competition in Australia. Having managed to hoard three, we always drink the one with an extra two years' bottle age.

Only ... it will all be different this year. August was so hot and windless that the Bassin de Thau suffered a kind of heatstroke called malaïgue ('bad water' in Occitan): white algae dye the lagoon, which deoxygenates. Onethird of the oyster crop and all of the mussels were lost after eight days during which the water never dropped below 29°C: a disaster for local growers and the 3,000 seafood jobs the lagoon supports. In any case, work has taken Jacqui, Jean-Michel and the boys back to Martinique for a year or two. Oysters and the Bollinger are on hold while we head back to the familiarity of turkey, sprouts and claret – and family of the un-improvised kind.

Oysters and Champagne

'Good with oysters'

Passionate epicureans, the Beyer family of Alsace believe their wine goes so well with oysters that they even named a cuvée especially Riesling Les Ecaillers, Léon Beyer You don't need to judge a wine competition in Australia to get your hands on a magnum of Bollinger, their Special Cuvée Brut NV is available online and if you're a classic Chablis lover, look no further than our Society's Chablis with matching oyster label. Finally, from vineyards neighbouring the beleaguered Bassin de Thau, The Society's Picpoul de Pinet will go just as well with our local oysters.


Andrew Jefford is an award-winning writer and broadcaster with a regular blog and column in Decanter magazine and contributing editor for the World of fine Wine magazine. Based in France, Andrew travels widely for his work and will be keeping us posted with updates from his life in the Languedoc and abroad in this regular The View from Here column.

Society Promise
Members before profit
Awards

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.

Close

4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies:

4.4.4.1. Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended.

4.4.4.2. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit.

4.4.4.3. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic.

4.4.4.4. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.